I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Published in April 2009, Coyle “examines research into myelin, a neural insulator produced when we repeatedly ‘fire a particular circuit’ “; explores ways in which people are motivated to develop their skills, and identifies the winning strategies of master coaches who produce world-class performers and athletes.
Coyle was one of the first researchers to support the benchmark that to produce world-class skill in any area, a person must invest 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in their particular field – music, sports, etc. This research is fascinating and definitely worth examining in regards to helping our students develop their own talent. However, I was extremely interested in the last section dedicated to master coaches.
How do the master coaches pull out the best in their students?
Of the many excellent examples contained in the book, I boiled them down to a few take-aways I want to improve upon in my own teaching.
Concerning famed football coach John Wooden (emphasis, mine):
“He didn’t only tell them what to do: he became what they should do, communicating the goal with gesture, tone, rhythm, and gaze. The signals were targeted, concise, unmissable, and accurate.”
[Researchers of John Wooden] “Gallimore and Tharp recorded and coded 2,326 discrete acts of teaching. Of them, a mere 6.9 percent were compliments. Only 6.6 percent were expressions of displeasure. But 75 percent were pure information: what to do, how to do it, when to intensify an activity. One of Wooden’s most frequent forms of teaching was a three-part instruction where he modeled the right way to do something, showed the incorrect way, and then remodeled the right way.”
“He taught in chunks, using what he called the “whole-part method”—he would teach players an entire move, then break it down to work on its elemental actions. He formulated laws of learning (which might be retitled laws of myelin): explanation, demonstration, imitation, correction, and repetition. ‘Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens—and when it happens, it lasts,’ he wrote in The Wisdom of Wooden. “The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated,” he said in You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned, authored by Gallimore and former Wooden player Swen Nater. ‘Repetition is the key to learning.'”
Concerning research of other master teachers:
“[They teach in a] series of short, vivid, high-definition bursts. They never began sentences with “Please, would you” or “Do you think” or “What about;” instead they spoke in short imperatives. “Now do X” was the most common construction; the “you will” was implied.”
“Of the many phrases I heard echoing around the talent hotbeds, one stood out as common to all of them. It was: ‘Good. Okay, now do_____.’ A coach would employ it when a student got the hang of some new move or technique. As soon as the student could accomplish the feat (play that chord, hit that volley), the coach would quickly layer in an added difficulty. Good. Okay, now do it faster. Now do it with the harmony. Small successes were not stopping points but stepping-stones.”
“‘Sixty percent of what you teach applies to everybody,” [Tom Martinez] continued. “The trick is how you get that sixty percent to the person. If I teach you, I’m concerned about what you think and how you think. I want to teach you how to learn in a way that’s right for you. My greatest challenge is not teaching Tom Brady but some guy who can’t do it at all, and getting them to a point where they can. Now that is coaching.'”
Already I have found myself analyzing my teaching in a new light, and I’ve already started incorporating more short coaching-type speech into each lesson. It will be interesting to evaluate the long-term effect this has in the weeks, months and years to come.